Monday, 9 April 2012

Conference Report- Sunday

Sunday's session of Conference was dedicated to debates on education policy.

The motion on Ofsted cued many horror stories from delegates about the manner in which Ofsetd inspections are used. In particular we have seen recent evidence of inspections being commissioned in a highly political way, such as Michael Gove's decision to send in Ofsted to do a hatchet job on Downhill's Primary school in Harringey, to allow the Government to force it into becoming a primary academy.

Christine commented before the debate that:
"[Chief Inspector of Schools] Sir Michael Wilshaw’s proposals appear to be more concerned with facilitating Government policies on academies and phonics than genuinely aiding school improvement. His aggressive rhetoric is disappointing from someone who as a headteacher was well-respected by many. It undermines his credibility with teachers who are not, at the moment, certain if he is simply acting as a parrot or a puppet for Ministers. Effective school inspection needs an approach which trusts and supports the profession and doesn’t denigrate it. The NUT believes Ofsted should look to and learn from the ‘light touch’ accountability systems of high performing countries such as Finland and New Zealand which are predicated on trusting schools and teachers to do the best by their students, rather than based on the idea that this can only be achieved through threats or penalties.”

Max Hyde of the Executive gave a hilarious speech, reflecting that we were having this discussion on Easter Sunday, and reflecting that the great teacher Jesus would have been failed by Ofsted during the Sermon on the Mount, for not having his objectives on the board, or making the pupils aware at the beginning about their current sub-level of righteousness.

The Conference also condemned the Government's plans to introduce the Year 1 phonics check for 5 year olds, with a reading test that not only has a crude pass/fail mechanism, but also award points for five year olds (at such a crucial stage in their language development) reading "nonsense words" to show their understanding of "synthetic phonics" rules which often don't work in the English Language (this was pointed out by the President Marilyn Harrop later in the day, when calling a delegate from Brent: Lesley Gouldbourne... how do we explain the two pronunciations of "ou" in that using SP ? )

After the debate, I was pleased to take part in a photoshoot for The Teacher as part of our Five is Too Young To Fail campaign. Look out for this and the delegates' testimonies on YouTube- links to follow.

My colleague, Phil Clarke, secretary of the Lewes, Eastbourne and Wealden NUT Association spoke eloquently on Youth Unemployment. Phil's amendment condemned the use of forced Workfare, using the unemployed to provide free labour to big companies rather than creating genuine paid jobs. Christine confirmed the Union's belief that:
"Youth unemployment is a blight on our society. For one in five young people aged 16-24 who are not in full-time education to be unemployed is a shocking waste of talent. This is nothing short of the abandonment of a generation."

Finally in the day's business, we debated Special Educational Needs. Conference condemned the cuts to SEN Central Services, reaffirming the Union's belief in proper resources to create "meaningful" inclusion. The Government's policy to push for the privatisation of PRUs and SEN facilities, including Free schools was opposed, and disability campaigner Richard Reiser pointed out the scandal of the "get out" offered to governors of Academy and Free Schools that lets them refuse to accept children with SEN- even if that school is named on a Statement.

Conference closed at lunchtime, with a tribute to murdered American teenager Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was shot dead in Sanford, Florida on 26 February. The police have failed to arrest, and the prosecutors have refused to indict, George Zimmerman, Martin’s self-professed killer.“George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer, claimed that Trayvon Martin looked suspicious and killed him in self defense. Although a federal investigation is under way, Trayvon’s parents have asked the US department of justice to investigate possible interference with investigations by the local police. Trayvon's family believe that state attorney Norm Wolfinger and Sanford police chief Bill Lee overruled the recommendation of the chief homicide investigator that Zimmerman be arrested and charged with manslaughter.

Teachers in the USA and Britain will be horrified that the law appeared to believe that it was justified to shoot dead a child for being black and in a hoodie after dark. The Conferecne closed with a minute's silence for Trayvon, where we had placards bearing his face and many members of conference wore hoodies- including Deputy General Secretary Kevin Courtney. (The Guardian covered the case of Trayvon Martin just the day before)

Despite Conference closing at lunchtime, I was able to attend the reception held by the Teachers Support Network in the afternoon, and in the evening was pleased to chair the LGBT Teachers reception, where we welcomed National President Marilyn Harrop and newly-elected LGBT Constituency Seat holder, my friend Annette Pryce.

I finished the evening by attending the Cumbria NUT Division reception. While it's a long way from East Sussex, my partner's family are from Cumbria, so it helped me feel closer to him, somehow. That's my story and I'm sticking to it anyway... (the entertainment and chip butties were also superb !)

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